‘Helicopter Parent’ is a term first used by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. It came to mean a style of parenting that over-focuses on the children. These parents typically take too much responsibility for their children’s experiences and specifically, their successes or failures. “It means being involved in a child’s life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting,” explains Dr. Ann Dunnewold, author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box.
My husband made a power point that he uses in seminars called, “Are You a Hyper-parent?” This is the opposite extreme from the parents who abdicate their parental responsibilities and let a nanny or caregiver raise their child. A neighbor of ours in Penang took her month-old baby to a care-giver on Sunday afternoons and only brought her home after work on Friday night. It is hard to imagine that child ever having a relationship with her parents.
But for this letter I’m talking about hyper parenting while the child is a toddler and preschooler. A hyper parent of a toddler constantly shadows the child, always plays with and directs his behavior and allows him zero time alone.
Of course, we need to watch out for our children to make sure the environment is safe. We want to ensure they have everything they need to develop well. However, it is impractical and not even good to be constantly focused on the child.
There are a few reasons one might feel they must hover:
- Parents can be afraid for their child’s safety or proper development or health. Minor symptoms or deviations from average seem life-threatening to the parent.
- Overcompensation so their children don’t have to experience the lacks or pains of their parents’ childhood, drive some to hover.
- Parents feel they are in competition with other parents to raise the best and brightest children.
There are results of helicopter parenting that are opposite to the desired outcome. Here are a few that are well-documented:
- Lower self-confidence and self-esteem. When parents hover, children feel their parents don’t trust them to do things on their own. They will not want to try new things for fear of failure or disappointing their parents.
- Inability to accomplish activities of daily living. These children do not know how to tie their shoes, zip their jackets, or clean up after themselves long after they are mentally and physically capable of doing these things for themselves.
- Lack of coping skills. When parents try to prevent failure or disappointments, children do not learn to cope with loss or complications. They feel less competent to deal with stress in their lives.
- Increased anxiety. A study from the University of Mary Washington shows that overparenting is associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression.
- Develop a sense of entitlement. when their lives are smoothed out ahead of them, they expect to always have their own way.
So how can the parents of a baby or toddler avoid hovering like a helicopter over their children:
- Make sure your baby or toddler has a child-proofed area to play in and give them things to play with that they cannot hurt and cannot hurt them.
- Give your child some time to just play by herself every day. Choose a time when she is awake, fed, dry, and playful. Give her some toys to choose from and tell her you will be back in a few minutes.
- Every time you leave the room, tell your child you will be back. This helps them learn to trust you will return and not demand your constant presence.
- Encourage your baby or child to try new things. Reward good effort, not just success, with positive attention.
- When your child tried but could not yet do something, say something like, “You can try again tomorrow. One day soon, you will be a pro at this.”
- Whenever your child is trying and trying and getting frustrated, change to some other activity. Don’t wait until they have a meltdown. You can let them try some more at another time when they are more relaxed.
- If you are teaching a complicated skill, you do most of it—talking all the time about what you are doing. Stop before the very last step and help your child do the last step. For example when you are teaching him to put on his own shirt. Talk about how you know which is the front or the back, how you open it up, how they put their head through the collar, how they wiggle their arm to find the arm hole, then stop. Have him pop his hand out through the sleeve. Then when he is good at that, have him find the arm hole and pop his hand through. Then allow him to push his head through the collar, find the arm hole and pop his hands through. It means that your child always ends with a success in learning that task.
- Watch your First Steps bulletins for more suggestions for ways to help your child develop new skills. Most of the skills require you showing your child how to do something and then helping him or her practice.
Most parents have times of worry about their children, but don’t allow yourself to become obsessed with your children. Pray for your children. Provide a safe a place for them to be. Stay attentive to them. And then relax and let them be children and learn by trying. You will be more relaxed and they will be happier, more successful. Sure, your child will fail or be disappointed sometimes, but in the end you will have a son or daughter who knows how to cope with life.
If you have any questions or comments, please email me at: Diane